GMs, scouts prepare for difficult test  

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It’s hard to imagine a more-challenging year for OHL general managers and scouts, as they try to separate the great from the good, and the good from the average when it comes to 2005 birth-year players.

“Definitely it’s a little different than what we’re used to,” said Soo Greyhounds general manager Kyle Raftis.

With midget league play limited all across Ontario because of the COVID-19 pandemic, OHL teams, such as the Greyhounds, will be forced to cobble together their 2021 draft boards based on fewer views of draft-eligible players.

As yet another aspect of hockey negatively affected by the coronavirus, the annual Priority Selections draft, typically held in early April, was originally postponed until May 8. The Under-18 draft was scheduled for May 12.

However, with the start of the 2020-2021 OHL regular season postponed three times and still on hold, the main draft has now been rescheduled for some time in June.

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The OHL has made no official announcement and Raftis confirmed Wednesday no firm date has been set. He also said he expects there will be a U18 draft and plans to be prepared for all scenarios.

“It’s tough,” Raftis agreed when asked about the quest to accurately rank prospects in the midst of a pandemic. “Before the recent lockdown you were starting to see more scrimmage sessions and 5-on-5 hockey. I was able to get out multiple times per week to catch some guys.”

However, the GM added, “it’s never going to compare to a regular year. You didn’t get a chance to see the same structured hockey this season. But every OHL team is in the same boat.”

Hoping the league will find a way to play a shortened season this spring and/or summer, Raftis talked about not being able to see prospects as they progressed.

“You might see a player a couple of times in one week and then you don’t see him again for a couple of weeks.”

In many areas of the province, players were thrown together with others not on their league teams in order to scrimmage in front of OHL scouts and/or GMs.

In a typical high-level tournament, scouts can make “apples-to-apples” comparisons, said Raftis, who’s served in his present capacity with the Hounds for six seasons.

However, in the midst of the pandemic “sometimes you see them with contact, sometimes you see them without contact. Sometimes it’s 5-on-5, sometimes it’s 4-on-4. It’s definitely different for us.”

In a normal minor hockey season, scouts and GMs would be able to follow players through their regular seasons, major tournaments and league playoffs.

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“You’d start to get a feel for the direction in which a player is going,” Raftis said. “This year, you’re looking at their skill sets and you have to project a little more.”

Asked if that makes the 2021 draft a bona-fide crapshoot in some ways, the GM chose to again use the word “different.”

He went on to explain how OHL general managers, and the scouts they rely upon, expect to have a level of comfort entering a draft.

That won’t necessarily be the case this June.

“I would see a kid 20-25 times myself,” said Raftis, who, in his first five seasons here, led the Hounds to a 234-78-20-8 record – the best five-year regular season run in franchise history. “But we won’t have the same number of live views this season. Maybe this year you only get a couple of views of a certain player. It’s going to be tougher to assess a player’s ceiling.”

And by not seeing a player as many times as in past seasons, that feeling of comfort with where you slot a prospect on your draft board could be elusive.

“It’s tough to be as assertive and as confident in your picks,” Raftis said. “You always want to be as confident as possible in all of your selections, but this year, it’ll be tough.”

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